What Happens To Your Body When You Quit Smoking

Mark Twain once said, "Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I've done it thousands of times." Anyone attempting to quit the habit understands the truth of Twain's statement - it takes a lot to stop - but how your body changes when you stop smoking may inspire you to give it a shot. Many of the changes occur within days of stamping out your last butt, proving the effects of quitting smoking far outweigh any instant gratification gained from lighting up.

For decades, most anti-smoking campaigns focused on diseases caused by smoking and scare tactics. Public service ads tend to feature smokers whose habit has left them without a voice box or lungs, tethered to oxygen tanks, or consumed by guilt for exposing family members to secondhand smoke. In Europe, cigarette boxes feature images of blackened lungs, bodies in morgues, and babies strangulated by smoke.

Still, people choose to light up. What if we took a different approach? What if we showed you some improvements to your health that occur after you stop smoking? The evidence is eye-opening, and seeing it may serve as one of the best ways to quit smoking.

  • After 20 Minutes: Your Pulse And Blood Pressure Normalize
    Photo: OpenStax / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0

    After 20 Minutes: Your Pulse And Blood Pressure Normalize

    Your body quickly starts healing and repairing itself after smoking. Your pulse rate and blood pressure spike when you're smoking, but within 20 minutes of finishing a cigarette, both return to normal levels. Normalized blood pressure means blood can travel through open, less-constricted vessels to the extremities.

    This results in your hands and feet feeling warm, when in reality, they're simply returning to their regular temperature.

  • After Eight Hours: Your Body Works Half Of The Carbon Monoxide And Nicotine Out Of Your Blood

    It takes eight hours for your body to remove half of the carbon monoxide and nicotine ingested by smoking. Carbon monoxide is a gas found in the air, but it's especially concentrated in smoke. When inhaled, it enters the bloodstream and prevents blood from circulating oxygen throughout the body.

    Around eight hours after smoking a cigarette, smokers may start feeling the urge for another due to the lowered nicotine levels. It's key to fight this craving to return to equilibrium.

  • After 12 Hours: Your Carbon Monoxide Levels Return To Normal

    A few more hours post-cigarette, the carbon monoxide levels in your blood should return to normal. The heart no longer has to strain to pump blood and spread oxygen throughout your body. Smokers often feel short of breath due to a lack of oxygen in their bloodstream, but once the carbon monoxide levels decrease, breathing becomes easier.

  • After 24 Hours: You Have A Lower Risk For Heart Attack
    Photo: OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0

    After 24 Hours: You Have A Lower Risk For Heart Attack

    In general, smokers have a 70% higher risk of heart attacks and coronary artery disease than nonsmokers. At the 24-hour mark, your chances of having a heart attack drop significantly. This is because the carbon monoxide has left your blood, and the heart can carry out its job properly.

  • After 24 Hours: You'll Experience Withdrawal-Related Anxiety

    Lots of positive effects are occurring in the body at this point, but things will also start to feel a bit bumpy. This is the stage where nicotine withdrawal-related anxiety surges. Anxiety and uncontrollable cravings are not uncommon, and they typically take some time to fade - up to two weeks.

    However, after the first 72 hours, you should notice the cravings becoming more manageable.

  • After 48 Hours: Your Damaged Nerve Endings Start Repairing Themselves
    Photo: Till Krech / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    After 48 Hours: Your Damaged Nerve Endings Start Repairing Themselves

    Two days out, nerve endings damaged by smoking begin to repair themselves. This results in your senses of smell and taste improving, potentially causing food to taste better and more flavorful. Other parts of the body start to mend too - namely, the lungs.

    You might also experience some coughing and mucus, but this is your body eliminating the remnants of the smoke.